A/N: Hello everyone! Well, this is a rather unexpected one-shot. Like Smaug, I've been lying dormant, though lying under a pile of ninth grade papers to be marked rather than gold… and then, like Bilbo, inspiration crept in and roused me from my retirement. Thanks also go to Italian Hobbit; a second burglar who gave me a nudge in the right direction.
Although this fic isn't necessarily a prequel to 'Bring Them Home', I have absolutely no problem with readers seeing it that way. But beware: should you take this as part of the BTH canon, Thorin's final words to Fíli out on the battlefield do take on a whole new meaning.
This author's note is going to end up being longer than the actual fic, but I would also like to give a shout-out to MercedesAsheSorrel who has done me the honour of writing fanfiction of my fanfiction. Her wonderful story, 'A First and Final Visit', is based on an entry in the 'Bring Them Home' Appendix and you should all definitely give it a read!
Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own anything and am no closer to that holiday home in the Bahamas.
"You miserable hobbit! You undersized – burglar!"
Fíli reacted first. With a few strides, he launched himself between his uncle and Bilbo. Thorin slammed into him, knocking the breath from his chest, but Fíli planted his boots into the stone and wrestled him back.
"Thorin." The word became a hiss as pain erupted in Fíli's shoulder; the one that had been blackened by dragon fire as he shielded Tilda, Bard's daughter, from the flames.
His uncle's name was echoed by several stunned members of the Company, with Balin's plea being loudest of all, but Thorin paid them no heed and lurched once again towards Bilbo, his teeth bared in a vicious snarl. Every muscle in Fíli's body tensed as he struggled to restrain Thorin, who switched from the common tongue to more colourful Khuzdul curses.
"Bilbo! Get out of here!" Fíli cried, his blue eyes meeting the fearful gaze of the bewildered burglar.
All the colour had drained from Bilbo's face and the guilt from his betrayal was clearly etched across his small features. But still, the hobbit didn't move. Fíli stared at him desperately, willing him run. Did he not understand the danger he was in? Had he not seen Thorin's eyes flash black or heard the venom in his voice?
"Go!" Fíli shouted, as he felt another growl rumble and rise in Thorin's chest.
"I… I'm sorry," Bilbo stuttered, his eyes shining. He staggered backwards a few steps and then turned and fled, disappearing into the dark of the ancient passageway behind him.
As soon as Bilbo was swallowed by the blackness, Fíli relaxed the arm wrapped around Thorin's chest, only to find it knocked away with such force that he almost stumbled into the stone pillar to his right. His burned shoulder flared up in protest and Fíli gritted his teeth. Steadying himself, he turned to see Thorin glaring at him, his shoulders oddly hunched and his chest heaving. Keeping his eyes locked on Thorin, Fíli slowly widened his stance and moved to stand in front of Kíli. It was not a conscious decision, but Thorin's murderous expression had set buried instincts in motion. Each step Fíli took, Thorin mirrored it, and it was with a sickly jolt that Fíli realised he and his uncle were sizing each other up, as if they were sparring partners.
His thumping heart was a drumbeat echoing in his ears and his breaths came sharp and shallow. Fíli was afraid. He was willing to admit that to himself. This was not the welcome he and Kíli had expected. Smaug was destroyed, the Mountain reclaimed, but it seemed there were still battles to be fought… and Thorin had changed. There was no light left in his darkened eyes and his voice was harsher, his words cruel and unforgiving.
Thorin suddenly took a step forward and Fíli's fingers itched for a knife.
"Why did you stop me from wringing the blasted halfling's scrawny neck?" Thorin barked, his furrowed, black brow casting greater shadows over his sunken eyes.
In the periphery of his vision, Fíli saw Dwalin shift ever so slightly. It was a movement he recognised from years of training. The old warrior was preparing to intervene.
"You do not want Bilbo's blood on your hands, Uncle," Fíli said quietly. He was aware of the hint of pleading in his tone: pleading that Thorin would see sense, that the uncle he knew and loved would return.
"He is a traitor and I should be putting his rotting head on a spike!" Thorin bellowed, his voice reverberating around the cavernous ceiling like a thunderclap. "The Arkenstone is your birth-right, Fíli, and he gave it to our enemy!"
Fíli flinched at the mention of his own name, and he immediately resented Thorin for including him in Bilbo's betrayal. He knew this was not a family affair and his uncle didn't care that the Arkenstone was being kept from his nephews, only that it was being kept from him.
Sickness. The two syllables were hissed in Fíli's ear by a dark, disembodied voice. He could see something foul twisting behind Thorin's black gaze… Something wicked had worked its way into his uncle's veins, and what made Fíli's stomach clench was the knowledge that this bad blood was coursing through his own body, causing the pulse ticking at his temples. He looked at Thorin and in a flash he saw his own face staring back at him, his blue eyes darkened by the same malice.
And then the disembodied voice became Thorin's: "One day you will be King and you will understand…" Fíli felt the anger swelling within him. Was this what it meant to be a king? He thought of Thorin throwing an arm across his chest and of Kíli sitting, deathly pale and dejected, on the dock. His fingers folded into fists.
"Bilbo made a mistake," he said, his voice dangerously low. "We all make mistakes."
The challenge in Fíli's tone was not lost on Thorin, who shifted his gait, his eyes narrowed. Fíli mimicked the movement, his heartbeat speeding up to a gallop. This was the moment of confrontation. The confrontation that would take more courage than Fíli felt he possessed; few had ever dared to challenge Thorin, and all who had done so had regretted it. He had been playing out scenarios in his head for days on end. Ever since Thorin had sailed away from them on that cold morning, Fíli had been turning everything endlessly over and over in his mind. He had spent the entirety of their journey north to the Mountain at war with himself. His thoughts now took on a familiar rocking rhythm as he was thrown between rationalising and the hurt that gnawed at his heart. Thorin left Kíli behind; but only to protect him. He tried to stop me; but he let me go. He left both of us behind…
Thorin's voice suddenly sliced through Fíli's conflicting thoughts. "Mistakes?" he asked, taking a threatening step towards his nephew. "If you're referring to what happened in Lake-town –"
"How could you leave Kíli alone on that dock?!" Fíli exploded, silencing his uncle as the words burst from his lips before he could stop them. The gnawing hurt won. All thoughts of rationality vanished and all that was left was pain and anger.
"Fíli…" came Kíli's soft voice. It offered both comfort and warning, but Fíli didn't turn.
Thorin's eyes had grown even darker and his expression was hard and unreadable. He opened his mouth to speak, but Fíli cut across him once again: "You gave us no warning! No warning of your decision… And it was not by your will that Óin and I stayed behind… You would have left your nephew alone to die!"
Fíli could feel himself shaking and the golden hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end. The manic drumbeat of his heart continued its pounding in his ears. His face felt hot and his eyes began to sting.
Thorin's piercing gaze flickered to his feet, but returned to Fíli in an instant, and his mouth twisted into a grimace. Something Fíli couldn't fathom passed over his expression, and then he spoke, his voice sounding oddly strained: "Your brother needs to learn that you will not always be there to protect him."
If Fíli hadn't been in the grips of rage and adrenaline at that moment, he would never have said it. If he had recognised what truly lurked behind his uncle's black gaze, a single syllable would never have passed his lips… But the knife that had been screwing itself into his heart for days gave a sudden, agonising jerk at Thorin's words and bid him speak.
"And what if it had been Frerin? Would you have left him behind too?"
Fíli did not react first. The attack came with a strangled roar, and he was thrown backwards as fingers closed around his throat. Thorin hurled his whole body-weight into the lunge and Fíli smacked into the stone pillar. A white-hot pain branched out from the bottom of his skull, making his vision black out for a second.
As the stone chamber swam back into view, Fíli found Thorin's face was mere inches from his, but over his uncle's shoulder he caught sight of Kíli being dragged back by Dwalin. It seemed the younger dwarf, in rushing to his brother's aid, had unintentionally blocked Dwalin's attempts at intervention. The warrior was staring at Thorin in shock, his usually harsh features softened by disbelief.
It was the tightening of rough, calloused fingers around his throat that returned Fíli's gaze to the black eyes of his uncle. With his right hand at Fíli's neck, Thorin pinned his nephew to the pillar, drawing in deep, ragged breaths through an open-mouthed snarl. Fíli's own breathing was equally ragged as each breath struggled from his throat, causing Thorin's fingers to further graze the skin of his neck. He could feel his entire body quivering with both shock and the remaining adrenaline. Withered stars sparked in his vision every time the back of his head throbbed in time with the fiery pulsing in his shoulder.
Survival instincts, ingrained by decades of training, surfaced and he found himself mentally mapping all the ways he could break free from Thorin's grasp. A metal toecap or armoured knee-pad in the right place would suffice… If he was quick enough, he could reach at least three of the eighteen different knives concealed in his coat and thinly slice the top of Thorin's wrist… It would draw blood, but would be only a superficial wound and enough of a distraction to –
"Do it," Thorin said suddenly, his voice no more than a whisper as his face edged even closer to Fíli's.
His heart plummeting into his stomach, Fíli realised that Thorin could read every single thought-process in his expression. He knew Fíli was planning a counter-attack.
"Take one of your knives and stab it into my back next to that wretched halfling's!"
A waver. There had been a waver in Thorin's voice. Fíli stared at his uncle, his words echoing in his ears, and finally a revelation grasped his shoulders and shook him back to his senses: Thorin's expression was not one of true loathing… but one of true pain. Bilbo's betrayal, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, was still a betrayal, and Thorin was hurting.
As his gaze dropped to his feet, a hot, sickly feeling sprouted black tendrils in Fíli's stomach. The tendrils reached up to his chest, wrapping themselves around his ribs, tightening around his heart. Guilt. Fíli knew he had struck a very low blow when he spoke of Frerin; the forever laughing, Kíli-ish uncle he never knew. In his anger and frustration, he had wanted to cause Thorin injury… but his thoughtlessness had led to foul play. He and Thorin would defend their little brothers to the end, but the difference was: Fíli's little brother was standing to his left, Thorin's had fallen long before his time.
Fíli's blue eyes, round and shining with regret, lifted once more to meet Thorin's dark gaze. "F-Forgive me… Uncle…" The words burned in his throat and struggled from his lips, but still they were heard.
Waiting for Thorin's answer, Fíli's stricken expression made him appear so much younger than his years. It was the expression of a golden haired dwarfling who had tripped and knocked a pile of swords to the forge floor and, tearful in his remorse, had begged his uncle's forgiveness.
A flicker. Fíli saw it pass over Thorin's face and soften the edges of his expression. All of a sudden he found his own shame being mirrored back at him from under a heavy brow. The calloused fingers left his throat. Unable to stop himself from spluttering as his hands jumped to his neck, Fíli couldn't call out to his uncle as he staggered back. Thorin's lips seemed to form a word, but then the word become a grunt; he turned on his heel and stormed out of the chamber, following in their burglar's lighter footsteps.
Dwalin's hands dropped from Kíli's shoulders and he moved towards the passageway, but Balin put a gentle hand on his brother's arm to stop him. "No… Leave him be," he said quietly, his brown eyes full of a sadness Fíli had never seen before.
Resting against the pillar to stop himself from crumpling to the floor, Fíli tried to focus on breathing, but each intake of air felt like jagged glass in his throat. His eyes darted from face to face as he surveyed the Company, who remained as still as stone, their expressions fraught with both anxiety and despair. Finally, his gaze came to rest on Kíli, and his brother moved forward, slowly and carefully, approaching him as if he were a wounded animal.
"I'm all right," Fíli said, his tone sharp and defensive. A bolt of pain shot up his neck and he flinched, seeing lightning flash behind his eyes.
"Let me see," Kíli said softly, reaching a hand towards his brother.
Fíli hunched his shoulders and shrank away. "Kíli…"
"Let me see," Kíli repeated firmly. His brown eyes, despite the tears lingering at their corners, were full of Durin stubbornness.
His shoulders slumping, Fíli slowly tilted his head to the side. Kíli gently brushed his brother's golden hair away from his neck and his fingers travelled over the raised red marks spreading across the skin. Fíli winced, but didn't make a sound.
"He hasn't broken the skin," Kíli murmured. His tone would have been detached if it hadn't been for the barely audible crack on the third word.
Kíli's fingers slipped into Fíli's hair and searched out the lump that was sure to be swelling at the back of his head. Fíli inhaled sharply when the tender lump was discovered, and Kíli slowly withdrew his hand. "How's your shoulder?"
"Never better," Fíli replied, and for Kíli's sake, he managed a small smile. "How's your leg?"
"As good as new," Kíli said, without missing a beat, and returned the smile.
The brothers were silent for a few moments. Over Kíli's shoulder, Fíli could see Balin ushering the Company towards the guard corridor and urging them to sort through their supplies, drawing attention away from their conversation. The silence quickly became heavy with all the things that were being left unsaid, and so Kíli spoke.
"You didn't have to do that," he said, staring at the floor. "You didn't have to say anything."
Fíli sighed. He didn't want to contradict his brother. There had been too many arguments that day. Too many hurtful words. Instead, he simply placed his hand on Kíli's shoulder. Moving it to his neck, his fingers pressed into Kíli's soft, dark hair.
There was another moment of silence, and then Fíli whispered: "He's wrong, you know… I will always be there to protect you."
Kíli answered only with a smile and the brothers slowly bowed their heads together until their foreheads were touching, knowing that this gesture said more than words ever could.
And somewhere, hidden amongst the dark stone roots of the Mountain, a brotherless king dropped to his knees, buried his face in his hands, and wept.
A/N: Ah, do I hear a mob forming? Please do let me know your thoughts on this, even if it is only a creative way in which you intend to murder me!